With the Cleveland Browns just a day away from their preseason opener Saturday at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers, it’s time to take a look at the most important things we’ve learned from the first two weeks of training camp.
1) Neither Derek Anderson nor Brady Quinn has established himself as the No. 1 quarterback.
Though many in the media believed head coach Eric Mangini’s declaration of an open quarterback competition prior to camp was just a charade to increase Anderson’s trade value, he’s given each player equal reps with the starting offense in order for one or the other to prove himself to be the go-to guy under center.
But the most troubling issue the team has faced so far is that both QBs have looked equally mediocre. Anderson and Quinn have both struggled to get the ball in the end zone during two-minute drills, and each has been intercepted far more times than the coaching staff deems acceptable.
It’s very possible the defense is far ahead of the offense in learning the new coaching staff’s system and in turn is making things extra tough on the quarterbacks. But the hope was that either Anderson or Quinn would take the lead by this point of camp.
In a press conference Thursday, Mangini admitted that has yet to happen.
“They’re both making strides in different areas,” Mangini said, according to Cleveland.com. “As we talked about a long time ago, you have to really see who does separate themselves from the other one. When that time comes, it will be clear and that’s why you wait to make a decision.”
It’s been reported Anderson will get the start Saturday night, so we have to believe Mangini thinks D.A. has done the most to impress his new head coach. Seeing how Anderson handles himself with the first team against Green Bay’s starting defense Saturday evening should go a long way toward the final decision.
2) Rookie running back James Davis has been the most pleasant surprise of camp.
Davis, the Browns’ final selection and last of the team’s three sixth-round selections in this year’s draft, has impressed coaches, the media, and fans alike with his quick feet, pass-catching ability, nose for the end zone, and special teams play.
The Clemson product was pegged as a second- or third-round pick had he left college after his junior year. But after deciding to return to school, Davis slipped down the draft boards this spring after a shoddy offensive line, subpar quarterback play, and a midseason head coaching change hindered his production as a senior last fall.
Possibly with a nod from starting running back Jamal Lewis, who grew up in the same Atlanta neighborhood as Davis and has trained with him during the offseason, the Browns took Davis most likely as an afterthought.
But Davis has done everything right in camp and has put himself in position to be Lewis’ primary backup and the team's featured running back of the future.
3) First-round pick Alex Mack has struggled his way through the early part of training camp.
Mack is exactly the kind of player Mangini was looking for when the Browns traded down twice in the first round. He’s got the intelligence and size the coaching staff was looking to add to the offensive line.
But things have hardly come easy for Mack, who has run more laps as punishment for mental mistakes than anyone on the roster. Making things even more difficult for Mack has been the fact that he’s learning the ropes while being forced to contend against Cleveland’s most dominating defender, Shaun Rogers.
But Mangini still likes what he sees from Mack, both on and off the field, and predicts a bright future for his top draft pick.
“It’s a lot of new things for (Mack) and he’s attacking it,” Mangini said. “He’s a smart kid. He spends time, not just the allocated time, but he spends extra time really trying to soak it all in.”
4) Camp Crennel this is not.
Practices under Mangini have been smooth, crisp, and efficient. As promised, Cleveland’s first-year head coach has been a disciplinarian, hiring NFL referees to call penalties during drills and sending players running after errors in judgment, flags, or fumbling the football.
This is a drastically different approach than that of former head coach Romeo Crennel, whose training camp had a much more delicate pace, with far fewer drills in full padding and players often standing around waiting for their turn to participate, rather than maximizing their time on the practice field.
The Mangini system should have a positive effect on the team entering the regular season, as the Browns should be much better prepared for real-time action. Mangini’s team now spends countless hours practicing in specific game situations, most notably special teams and the two-minute offense.
5) Braylon Edwards has come to play.
Yes, Edwards missed the beginning of camp due to an undisclosed non-football injury and was again riding a stationary bike earlier this week after a problem with his foot.
But when he’s been on the field, last year’s league leader in dropped passes has caught everything that’s been thrown his way, consistently beat defenders, and wholeheartedly bought into the Mangini way.
It’s been well noted that Edwards is not only poised to erase the memory of a dreadful 2008 season, but is also in a contract year. So look for Edwards to become more motivated than ever to play to his potential.
6) These are still the Cleveland Browns.
Optimism for the upcoming season seems to always run rampant on the shores of Lake Erie at the beginning of training camp. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
As stated previously, neither quarterback has shined bright, the two-minute offense isn’t where it should be, and despite the presence of refs, penalties are far too common.
If this team is to have even limited success, dropped passes, fumbles, and Cleveland’s old standby, the false start, must be minimized.